Synopses & Reviews
"Trollope did not write for posterity," observed Henry James. "He wrote for the day, the moment; but these are just the writers whom posterity is apt to put into its pocket." Considered by contemporary critics to be Trollope's greatest novel, The Way We Live Now
is a satire of the literary world of London in the 1870s and a bold indictment of the new power of speculative finance in English life. "I was instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age," Trollope said.
His story concerns Augustus Melmotte, a French swindler and scoundrel, and his daughter, to whom Felix Carbury, adored son of the authoress Lady Carbury, is induced to propose marriage for the sake of securing a fortune. Trollope knew well the difficulties of dealing with editors, publishers, reviewers, and the public; his portrait of Lady Carbury, impetuous, unprincipled, and unswervingly devoted to her own self-promotion, is one of his finest satirical achievements.
His picture of late nineteenth century England is of a society on the verge of moral bankruptcy, where the traditional virtues of Tory squirearchy, represented by Roger Carbury, prove to be no match for the financial genius of Augustus Melmotte. In The Way We Live Now Trollope combines his talents as a portraitist and his skills as a storyteller to give us life as it was lived more than a hundred years ago.
"The Way we Live Now" is one of Trollope's most kaleidoscopic novels, one that brings the Victorian age vividly to life. In its depiction of a Victorian London in the grips of the new and morally bankrupting power of speculative finance, this novel has more than a little to say about some of the governing obsessions of our own age.
Augustus Melmotte has the reputation of a great financer and huge quantities of money pass through his hands. He entertains the emperor of China and is offered a seat in Parliament. No one thinks to examine the nature of his millions until he is caught forging the deeds to an estate he is buying.
At first savagely reviewed, The Way We Live Now (1875) has since emerged as Trollope's masterpiece and the most admired of his works. When Trollope returned to England from the colonies in 1872 he was horrified by the immorality and dishonesty he found. In a fever of indignation he sat down to write The Way We Live Now, his longest novel. Nothing escaped the satirist's whip: politics, finance, the aristocracy, the literary world, gambling, sex, and much else. In this world of bribes and vendettas, swindling and suicide, in which heiresses are won like gambling stakes, Trollope's characters embody all the vices: Lady Carbury, a 43-year-old coquette, 'false from head to foot'; her son Felix, with the 'instincts of a horse, not approaching the higher sympathies of a dog'; and Melmotte, the colossal figure who dominates the book, a 'horrid, big, rich scoundrel ... a bloated swindler ... a vile city ruffian'.